NewEnergyNews: Is Software the Solution to Solar Soft Costs? Startup Genability wants to write the definitive program for solar installers.

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Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The new challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • THE STUDY: A SUPPRESSED STUDY OF OHIO NEW ENERGY JOBS
  • QUICK NEWS, November 26: WHY PEOPLE DENY CLIMATE CHANGE; THE FORCE OF SOLAR; POWER ELECTRONICS MARKETS TO BOOM
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: THE DOE LOAN PROGRAM PAYS OFF
  • QUICK NEWS, November 25: THE PRESIDENT’S CLIMATE CHANGER; SOLAR AND WIND BEAT COAL, GAS ON PRICE; LED LIGHTING TO DISRUPT, TRANSFORM THE INDUSTRY
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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: RUNNING OUT OF GAS
  • QUICK NEWS, November 24: NEW ENERGY DOMINATES THE U.S. NEW BUILDS AGAIN; SIERRA CLUB, UNITED STEELWORKERS WANT WIND JOBS; THE ABUNDANCE OF SOLAR
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • Weekend Video: Much More Inhofe Now
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart Talks Keystone, Politics, And Jobs
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart On How Keystone Opponents May Be Caught In Their Own Trap
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-A NEW WAY TO SEE CLIMATE CHANGE
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-EU OCEAN WIND TO CUT COSTS, KEEP GROWING
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-COST-COMPETIVE NEW ENERGY, GERMANY’S ‘GIFT TO THE WORLD’
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-NEW ENERGY MATCHES COAL ON COST, CAPACITY IN TURKEY
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, November 20:

  • TTTA Thursday-TOP REPUBLICAN DROPS CLIMATE DENIAL
  • TTTA Thursday-FORD ELECTRIC CARS FOR ‘THE MASSES’
  • TTTA Thursday-MIDWEST SOLAR MAKES SENSE AND CENTS
  • TTTA Thursday-NEW ENERGY JOBS BY THE BAY
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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  • TODAY AT NewEnergyNews, November 26: THANKSGIVING THURSDAY, November 27:

  • Fast Fun Facts About Thanksgiving
  • A Lesser Known Bit Of Thanksgiving History
  • A Funky History Of Thanksgiving

  • Thursday, November 01, 2012

    Is Software the Solution to Solar Soft Costs? Startup Genability wants to write the definitive program for solar installers.

    Is Software the Solution to Solar Soft Costs? Startup Genability wants to write the definitive program for solar installers.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 25, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    The newest push by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Program is to deal withthe soft costs of distributed solar. SunShot’s aim is to bring the price of solar -- unsubsidized -- to parity with the most affordable sources of grid electricity supply. To do that, DOE wants to cut the total installed cost of a photovoltaic (PV) system to $1 per watt, or about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

    GTM Research's most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report put the average U.S. installed price at $5.89 per watt. The most recent German installed solar system price, GTM Editor-in-Chief Eric Wesoff recently noted, was $2.24 per watt peak. If module and inverter prices are assumed to be about the same in both countries, that big difference must be in the soft costs of installing a system.

    Genability says its software can help reduce those soft costs. Apparently, the DOE sees promise -- it recently awarded the San Francisco-based startup a grant for its platform to help installers provide accurate bids in less time, optimize the system size and tariff, and make collaboration and communication between soft cost providers easier.

    “Soft costs, according to the DOE,” explained Genability Founder and CEO Jason Riley, “include customer acquisition and installer overhead, financing and contracting, permitting, inspection, and interconnection, and installation and performance."

    A recently announced round of SunShot grants went to companies with ideas about how to deal with soft costs including Genability ($500,000), Clean Energy Experts LLC ($495,040), Clean Power Finance ($1.5 million), concept3D Inc. ($1,275,791), Distributed Energy Research & Solutions Inc. ($500,000), Simply Civic LLC ($499,510), Solar Mosaic Berkeley ($2 million), Tigo Energy Inc. ($500,000) and Urban Glue ($402,050).

    In giving these awards to an array of companies with plans to attack soft costs, the DOE hedged its bets. The solution may come from an aggressive startup like Genability or a power player like Clean Power Finance.

    The $500,000 grant to Genability was “to develop web, API and data tools to automate accurate calculations of the economics of solar,” explained Genability’s Riley.

    “Soft costs, or total non-hardware costs, are around 50 percent for residential,” Riley said. He cited a 2012 NREL report that put the installed cost of a five kilowatt U.S. residential PV system at $6.35 per watt and the non-hardware BOS cost at $3.33 per watt, or 52 percent of the total cost.

    Calculating how much an electricity bill is reduced when a system owner gets power from a solar system, Riley said, is “tricky and inexact.” Genability’s software, he explained, will make that calculation more precise by integrating solar system modeling and monitoring tools, tariff rate databases and engines, and usage data sources.

    “We are trying to lower soft costs by improving three things,” Riley said. Through better “prospect and triage” of deals, installers can “focus on the best opportunities.” Automation, he explained, “eliminates costs from the sales process.” And using software to include more details into solar system sales “spreads costs across deals.”

    Sizing the system optimally “means the economics for the buyer are better,” Riley said. “Getting to $1 per watt means we need a lot more solar installed, and getting as many people as possible the best deal possible contributes to that.”

    More precisely targeted marketing and sales “means lower customer acquisition costs,” he explained, “and better estimates early in the sales process means expectations are aligned. Labor is saved doing the analysis, and finally, more conversions [of interested people to buyers] again mean lower customer acquisition costs.”

    Solar companies, Riley said, “spend a lot of time and therefore money on finding and preparing a bid for potential customers, [but] less than 5 percent of these turn into real customers. Anything that helps make the process more efficient and makes proposals more attractive has a big positive impact on everyone's costs.”

    Collaboration and communication “is aimed in part at removing labor, friction and duplication from the bid prep process,” Riley said. “But we also want to eliminate the risk of uncertainty by sharing data, especially with the financiers. By sharing data, the installer designing the system can see his or her impact on the economics, the provider can be more aggressive in their pricing, and the host can feel better about the price risk they are taking on.”

    With “one-click collaboration,” Riley believes, he can “streamline the solar sales process, optimize every deal, and increase sales conversions.”

    As a winner in a tough DOE competition, Riley’s optimism is understandable. But in the wake of the Department of Commerce’s imposition of tariffs on modules imported from China and the loss at the end of last year of the 1603 manufacturing tax credit, module prices are expected to rise significantly. And demand is expected to drop off in the crucial California, New Jersey and Arizona markets due to incentive and political changes. So it may be a little harder to drive costs down than Riley now believes

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